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An Excerpt from The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers
If this is your first child, you, like my Girlfriends and I, probably began babyproofing your home before the baby was even born. Who could resist the fun of preparing your home in every single way? It was kind of like decorating the nursery or washing the layette with Dreft. By the time the baby was about seven months old, however, you might have broken a few of the cabinet locks in the kitchen or even removed the clasp on the toilet lid after too many times nearly wetting yourself before you got it up.
It turns out that babyproofing is a never-ending process. Some things just break from overuse, and other things the toddler outsmarts and infiltrates, like the slide-and-turn covers on electrical sockets or the rubber sleeves with animal faces that we put on the bathtub spouts. Thank heavens the babyproofing industry recognizes this evolutionary process and responds to our needs with new products on a regular basis. For example, when my first toddler was toddling, no one had even heard of a VCR protector. The outcry from mothers who had discovered that toddlers love sliding anything from toast to TV remotes into that enticing opening inspired a great addition to the toddler artillery.
The lesson to be learned here is that you must never get too complacent about your child's safety because he is developing so quickly. I wish I had a dollar for every mother whose child locked her out of her car by pushing that little button down in the moment between when she fastened him into his carseat and tried to open the door for herself. One minute they seem to be content to play patty-cake with their hands and the next they are using a spoon as a tool to open up the back of your clock radio. This is where recognizing your own toddler's particular taste can give you a bit of an edge. If, like Sonia, you have a water lover, make it a house rule that no one ever leaves the bathroom door open, whether in use or not. If you have a cabinet/drawer fetishist, double up on your safety by both installing babyproofing latches and removing anything that would harm her if she should figure out how to open that latch (and you know she will).
In most cities large enough to warrant their own airport, you will find several professional babyproofing companies listed in those giveaway parenting magazines or the Yellow Pages. While the pros are more expensive than buying the stuff at your local Home Depot and installing it yourself, they do render a service beyond convenience in that they know more toddler tricks than you do. They can walk in and assess your home with a professional eye that you might not yet possess. I, for one, would never have known the value of the device that protects the stove top from little hands wanting to grab pot handles if a professional hadn't shown me. You might argue that it's overkill and that babyproofing companies are in the business to frighten you and convince you that your entire home needs to be surrounded by bubble wrap, but I'm a paranoid kind of gal and I'll buy whatever protection I can afford.
If you opt to go the do-it-yourself route with the babyproofing, start with a manual or guide from your local bookstore, library or pediatrician's office. It will provide a general inventory of the basics any toddler home should have to keep stitches and scalds to a bare minimum. Make sure you install everything properly and then test that it works by inviting a friend or mate to try to outsmart it. If an educated adult cannot lift the toilet seat without five minutes of verbal instruction, then you might be able to keep an eighteen-month-old out until his second birthday.
After all the protection is installed, don't sabotage your efforts by getting lazy. Yes, we all know that you can break a nail opening a vanity drawer equipped with a babyproof lock, but isn't your child's safety worth an extra manicure now and then? (Besides, Girlfriend, what are you doing with nice nails at a frantic time like this, anyway?) I know how busy and exhausted you are as the mother of a toddler, but this is really a time when cleaning up after yourself is critical. What good is it to have a locked cabinet for potential poisons if you forget to put your nail polish remover in that cabinet after your manicure? Always assume that the little shadow will find the most toxic or sharp or hot thing in the house if you don't throw it out, lock it up or keep it on the top of your highest shelf.
God Gives You a Free One
I don't have a shred of scientific evidence to support this claim, but my Girlfriends and I have experienced this phenomenon enough to believe in its truth. What we have experienced, and are eternally grateful for, is that when we slipped up in our vigilance as parents and disaster was a heartbeat away, Divine Intervention saved our asses, but only on the condition that we learn from that mistake and never make it again. My first experience with this was when my first toddler grabbed my full coffee mug off the table while I was on the phone. As if in agonizingly slow motion, I watched from across the room as the mug tipped and coffee washed over my little darling's head and into his face. I felt like fainting, but instead I leaped to him and grabbed him up, only to discover that the coffee was cold. See, that was a free one. I can't even bring myself to consider how badly this could have turned out if he had found that mug an hour earlier, but I can tell you this, that toddler is now ten years old, and I still won't allow myself to leave a cup of coffee on a table or counter.
Dearest Sonia's first experience of getting a free one came with her three-year-old son, Jon. She went into her bathroom to find him with a
pill bottle in his hand and a mouth full of pills. She simultaneously grabbed the bottle and swiped her other hand through Jon's mouth to get the pills out. Naturally, at a moment like this, her brain was spinning so fast that she was barely able to focus on the words on the pill bottle, but she finally made out the word fluoride. She had been giving her son supplements on the advice of her dentist, and he evidently had taken a liking to them. Not knowing whether fluoride was toxic in large doses, Sonia and Jon made a mad dash to the pediatrician where Jon was pronounced "just fine." But Sonia and the rest of us Girlfriends knew what forces were at work here: God had given her a free one and she never even left tasty toothpaste out in the bathroom again until Jon was in the double digits.
Since the fundamental rule of parenting is that perfection is unattainable, there will come a time, or two, when your little tyke will get into trouble that you know you could have prevented. He will run into the street or open a bottle of window cleaner or slip his head between the fence and the side of the house and get stuck there. Your heart will seize, you will mentally take the calamity to its worst possible conclusion, which is always death, and something divine will intervene to save you. Never, ever take this intervention for granted, because it is precious and has a price. You must get right to the brink of disaster, feel the agony, and then come back from the precipice with a new resolve to pay better attention to protecting your toddler.
What About the Ones That Aren't Free?
You can never rely on the free one, and there will be times that something actually does penetrate your security and hurts your toddler. Ask any Girlfriend who has mothered a toddler, and she will have stories of fingers pinched in car doors, stitches on foreheads and above eyes, and goose eggs on the head. Toddlers are everywhere and into everything, and their bodies are often not up to the challenges their little minds set for them. It can be shocking to a mother who is new to the toddling ranks just how often her child hurts herself. In the beginning they fall every thirty seconds, usually into a coffee table or the leg of a desk. Later, they will have better balance, but they will be falling nearly as often because of the more challenging obstacle courses they've set up for themselves.
Aside from normal vigilance and babyproofing there are two types of preventable injuries to toddlers that we Girlfriends feel you should know about. We single them out because they can be avoided entirely once you know them and because we have seen them occur so darn many times that they're almost boring in their predictability.
Our Furry Friends
The first preventable and predictable injury is a dog bite. If you read The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, you know how little I trust even the oldest, gentlest, most beloved family pooch where a baby or toddler is concerned. It's not that I don't love dogs; I do and I have two myself. It's just that I have seen or heard of so many otherwise trustworthy dogs taking a bite out of a toddler's face. You can't really blame the dog, since a toddler often acts just like another animal in the house. Toddlers will play with the dog's food bowl, stick pencils in its ears, pull its lips up to show his "smile" or any of a million other indignities. Who wouldn't bite back?
I think the single best explanation for all these dog bites in the face is that dogs are pack animals whose nature is to express dominance to all weaker dogs. If your toddler runs up to a dog, he is pretty sure to face it eye to eye (since they are both about two feet tall), and he will violate the dog's space. Before you can blink an eye, the dog has snapped. Teach your toddlers that they should never, ever approach a dog tied up outside Starbucks or walking down the sidewalk. This will be excruciatingly difficult for some moms because lots of toddlers find all animals irresistible, but other moms of toddlers who are afraid of dogs should find it much easier. And as for family dogs, always be prepared for them to lose their minds, too. I don't care how much you adore and trust them, don't be silly about it to the point where you leave the dog and toddler alone together, even for a moment.
I can't just leave well enough alone with dogs, either. Cats, hamsters
and parakeets are also big toddler biters. Rare is the three-year-old who can cradle a rodent gently in its hands or carry a cat without dragging its hind legs on the ground, and this kind of cavalier behavior tends to bring out the worst in wildlife. Especially when the pet is in a shop or at a Playdate's house and your toddler is unfamiliar with its care and handling, you're asking for trouble if your child is allowed to get to know the family pet without any close parental supervision. I may sound harsh, Girlfriend, but that's my job.
<%=fontsmall%>Copyright © 1999 by Vicki Iovine. Used by permission of The Berkley Publishing Group. All rights reserved.